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Gonzo Report: Grinnells serve jazz for breakfast at Books & Records

Superlative French press coffee bolsters the buzz

The Grinnells: husband and wife make a magical musical partnership.
The Grinnells: husband and wife make a magical musical partnership.
Video:

GONZO: Grinnells serve jazz for breakfast at Books & Records in Bankers Hill


When I ask Jenna Angeloni, the manager at Books and Records in Banker’s Hill, if anyone has ever taken their “no dress code” policy to what would seem to me a logical conclusion, she informs me, “We’re primarily a restaurant, so if someone showed up dressed inappropriately, we’d have to ask them to cover up.” So far, no one has shown up with their fun parts exposed, but the day is young. Very young, as I’m attending a daytime jazz brunch, with music provided by The Grinnells, a husband-and-wife jazz duo — Justin on bass and Melonie on keyboards and vocals.

Angeloni tells me the joint is owned by locals who wanted a place to hang out with their friends and people from the neighborhood. Though I see no books or records for sale, the décor features vintage hardcovers of classics like The Wizard of Oz and enough Grateful Dead gear to make me feel like there is great acid right around the corner. One wall boasts digital images of icons of music and literature with their favorite food and drink. The eatery is larger than it appears from the outside, with a sunken main dining area in which staff have had to adjust to the energetic swing dancers that follow some musicians. But there are no swing dancers this morning, and so there is plenty of room to move. For now.

Place

Books & Records

2202 Fourth Ave., San Diego


Sponsored
Sponsored

Justin orders a coffee at the bar as we chat, and the staff tells him it’s steeping. Steeping? There’s only one way I know to concoct java that requires steeping: the first-rate method known as the French press. My pupils must have dilated, because the only thing I can see is the beautiful silver press pot as I order one for myself and hear Agent Dale Cooper pronounce it “a damn fine cup of coffee” somewhere in the distance. After my first sip, I correct the spectral voice and pronounce this one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. And there are three servings in the press.

Justin and I have more in common than I expected, we dig the same bands and speak of them with the same genuine enthusiasm. We talk as fans of Queen, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd, speaking the same language of appreciation and enjoyment. Then a little piece clicks in my brain as Justin tells me that jazz is a language as much as a style. I realize it’s probably just the physical effects of the caffeine, but I like to think a light bulb floated above my head and turned on during this moment of clarity.

But I don’t need the epiphany to appreciate the prowess of the duo playing today. Justin’s upright bass puts out sounds I’ve heard, but never seen performed. Seeing the physical execution — Justin using his right hand to slide up the neck while the left hammers out smooth notes — is like watching alchemy take place. And his method of playing a cymbal with his feet reminds me of Geddy Lee. Melonie’s fingers are feather light on the keyboards, meshing with the bass to weave a fascinating sonic tapestry, and her voice is big enough to command or hypnotize, depending on the material. Seeing jazz live may be the magic for me.

The place is filling up when I order my food, a light brunch of burrata tartine that I need help pronouncing, but devour without assistance, its perfect balance of marinated tomatoes and basil oil satisfying my ordinarily carnivorous taste buds without the assistance of the slightest trace of meat.

My last cup of French press adrenaline makes me more hyper than usual, and I walk around pestering diners and staff alike. I spot some stairs and ask where they lead, and I’m a little disappointed to learn it’s a prep kitchen and not a torture chamber. Or so I’m told. Visions of Pulp Fiction and Zed’s sexual sadism make me decide not to push the issue, in case my first thought was right. I strike up a conversation with a woman wearing a Pink Floyd shirt and can’t seem to stop babbling — the caffeine buzz peaking. When I make my way back toward the bar to interview Melonie, the place is packed, and tables are at a premium. There’s a reason reservations are limited — in both space and time allotted. I’ve taken up a bit more of both than the average customer, so I finish my business and leave. The old showbiz axiom of always leaving them wanting more applies here, and I look forward to my next visit. And, unexpectedly, my next jazz show.

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The Grinnells: husband and wife make a magical musical partnership.
The Grinnells: husband and wife make a magical musical partnership.
Video:

GONZO: Grinnells serve jazz for breakfast at Books & Records in Bankers Hill


When I ask Jenna Angeloni, the manager at Books and Records in Banker’s Hill, if anyone has ever taken their “no dress code” policy to what would seem to me a logical conclusion, she informs me, “We’re primarily a restaurant, so if someone showed up dressed inappropriately, we’d have to ask them to cover up.” So far, no one has shown up with their fun parts exposed, but the day is young. Very young, as I’m attending a daytime jazz brunch, with music provided by The Grinnells, a husband-and-wife jazz duo — Justin on bass and Melonie on keyboards and vocals.

Angeloni tells me the joint is owned by locals who wanted a place to hang out with their friends and people from the neighborhood. Though I see no books or records for sale, the décor features vintage hardcovers of classics like The Wizard of Oz and enough Grateful Dead gear to make me feel like there is great acid right around the corner. One wall boasts digital images of icons of music and literature with their favorite food and drink. The eatery is larger than it appears from the outside, with a sunken main dining area in which staff have had to adjust to the energetic swing dancers that follow some musicians. But there are no swing dancers this morning, and so there is plenty of room to move. For now.

Place

Books & Records

2202 Fourth Ave., San Diego


Sponsored
Sponsored

Justin orders a coffee at the bar as we chat, and the staff tells him it’s steeping. Steeping? There’s only one way I know to concoct java that requires steeping: the first-rate method known as the French press. My pupils must have dilated, because the only thing I can see is the beautiful silver press pot as I order one for myself and hear Agent Dale Cooper pronounce it “a damn fine cup of coffee” somewhere in the distance. After my first sip, I correct the spectral voice and pronounce this one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. And there are three servings in the press.

Justin and I have more in common than I expected, we dig the same bands and speak of them with the same genuine enthusiasm. We talk as fans of Queen, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd, speaking the same language of appreciation and enjoyment. Then a little piece clicks in my brain as Justin tells me that jazz is a language as much as a style. I realize it’s probably just the physical effects of the caffeine, but I like to think a light bulb floated above my head and turned on during this moment of clarity.

But I don’t need the epiphany to appreciate the prowess of the duo playing today. Justin’s upright bass puts out sounds I’ve heard, but never seen performed. Seeing the physical execution — Justin using his right hand to slide up the neck while the left hammers out smooth notes — is like watching alchemy take place. And his method of playing a cymbal with his feet reminds me of Geddy Lee. Melonie’s fingers are feather light on the keyboards, meshing with the bass to weave a fascinating sonic tapestry, and her voice is big enough to command or hypnotize, depending on the material. Seeing jazz live may be the magic for me.

The place is filling up when I order my food, a light brunch of burrata tartine that I need help pronouncing, but devour without assistance, its perfect balance of marinated tomatoes and basil oil satisfying my ordinarily carnivorous taste buds without the assistance of the slightest trace of meat.

My last cup of French press adrenaline makes me more hyper than usual, and I walk around pestering diners and staff alike. I spot some stairs and ask where they lead, and I’m a little disappointed to learn it’s a prep kitchen and not a torture chamber. Or so I’m told. Visions of Pulp Fiction and Zed’s sexual sadism make me decide not to push the issue, in case my first thought was right. I strike up a conversation with a woman wearing a Pink Floyd shirt and can’t seem to stop babbling — the caffeine buzz peaking. When I make my way back toward the bar to interview Melonie, the place is packed, and tables are at a premium. There’s a reason reservations are limited — in both space and time allotted. I’ve taken up a bit more of both than the average customer, so I finish my business and leave. The old showbiz axiom of always leaving them wanting more applies here, and I look forward to my next visit. And, unexpectedly, my next jazz show.

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